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The Frenchman's Map Project at Brass Cannon Brewing

The Frenchman’s Map Project at The Cannon Tap Room

Images and editorial by Brass Cannon Brewing

With permission from The College of William and Mary Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, who has the original Frenchman’s Map, the project team at The Cannon Tap Room of Brass Cannon Brewing, headed by Phil Norfolk, is replicating the Frenchman’s Map to cover the entire ceiling of the main tap room.

A Brief History of The Frenchman’s Map

The Frenchman’s Map of 1782 Williamsburg is a to-scale map probably drawn by one or more French Military Officer(s). It is also known as The Bible of the Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, having served as one of the guides, and some say perhaps the most important guide, to the archaeological restoration of Colonial Williamsburg as we experience it today.

Lost after the American Revolution, the map turned up between the pages of an old book bought by John D. Crimmins, a New York contractor and map collector, about 1909 when he bought a small library in Norfolk, Virginia. The map was then donated to The College of William and Mary who upon receiving it, framed it, and hung it in the Library, where it stayed until Pastor Goodwin of Bruton Parish embarked upon his quest to restore Williamsburg. Goodwin realized how important the map could be and the story goes that in 1927 Goodwin and a merry band started trying to layout and rediscover Colonial Williamsburg using The Frenchman’s Map along with a surveyors tap and a sword to stake it down! Such is the lore surrounding both the map and the restoration of one of America’s favorite guideposts in the History of the Nation.

Widely held to now be a billeting map to house French soldiers through the winter (approximately to scale except for the actual buildings not being to scale) done by one or more people probably in the French Quartermaster’s troop, the map is being reproduced as accurately as possible on the ceiling of The Cannon Tap Room by the careful routing of approximately 189 2×2-foot ceiling tiles using a computer numerical controlled routing table. Each tile is then carefully hand painted and then assembled back into the ceiling.

The staff at The Cannon see this important map, that has been used as an important tool guiding the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, as a critical document that few locals, let alone visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, are aware of or able to actually see. Brass Cannon Brewing Inc., is changing that and visitors to The Cannon Tap Room at Brass Cannon Brewing, can now view the Frenchman’s Map simply by looking up, using a one-page guide available as a handout to help make features of the map understandable and relatable to the actual restored town.

Also available at The Cannon Tap Room is the definitive book by Alan Simpson called, “The Mysteries of the Frenchman’s Map of Williamsburg Virginia.” The book has been out of print, but Brass Cannon Brewing is making it available through a limited reprint. All the profits are being donated back The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, who is the publisher.